Melendez overqualified for Strikeforce gig

December, 18, 2011
12/18/11
9:01
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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SAN DIEGO -- Gilbert Melendez likely won’t get the credit he deserves for an impressive, well-rounded performance against Jorge Masvidal.

He should. But from the general masses, he probably won’t.

Melendez (20-2) earned a hard-fought unanimous decision over Masvidal (22-7) at Strikeforce: Melendez versus Masvidal on Saturday, displaying many of the characteristics that have earned him such high regard among the mixed martial arts community along the way.

He landed combinations with regularity against one of the more elusive men in the 155-pound division. His cardio kept up with what was an absolute frenetic pace for 25 minutes. He made adjustments throughout the fight when necessary and rarely lost control. Two of the three judges awarded him every round.

But when you are the face of a promotion that is widely considered second-tier to the UFC, expectations change. Immediately following the five-round fight, criticism of Melendez’s performance surfaced.

Regardless of who the opponent is or how he matches up stylistically, Melendez is expected to dominate. Anything short of that seems to be a disappointment to some.

“They are pretty ignorant if that’s what they think,” Melendez told ESPN.com. “But a lot of people think that.

“You’ve got to be able to beat every kind of style out there. Jorge happens to be one of the tougher matchups for me. He’s another great sprawl and brawler; another great striker. The fact I can beat a guy of that caliber is a big win for me.”

Unfortunately for the California-based fighter, this set of expectations on him likely won’t change in the near future.

Unlike other Strikeforce champions such as teammate Nick Diaz, Alistair Overeem and Dan Henderson, Melendez is not bound for the UFC, despite the fact both promotions are owned by the same company.

That much became clear earlier this week when it was announced Strikeforce had renewed its deal with Showtime for 2012 and would not be absorbed into the UFC as many had speculated.

That means that, for now, the widely consensus No. 2 lightweight in the world will not meet the UFC champion any time soon. In his excitement after the decision over Masvidal was read, Melendez seemed to forget this and called for the UFC titleholder to meet him in Strikeforce.

By the time he reached the postfight news conference, he was ready to admit that likely isn’t an option.

“Maybe I was a little pumped after the fight,” Melendez said. “I’m happy to be a part of Strikeforce and Showtime. I’ve got to have faith they will do what’s great for me. [UFC president] Dana [White] told me they will do what’s great for my career.”

One inconvenient fact that must be pointed out is that no one currently on the Strikeforce lightweight roster is deserving of a shot against Melendez.
[+] EnlargeNoons
Josh Hedges/Getty ImagesKO Noons, left, got back to his winning ways, but he hardly looked the part of a man ready to challenge Gilbert Melendez.

Caros Fodor (7-1) and K.J. Noons (11-4) were each impressive in wins of their own Saturday, but neither have the credentials to warrant a title shot. The majority of the 27-year-old Fodor’s wins have come against unproven talent on smaller shows. Noons is just 1-2 in his last three fights.

Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker failed to name names at the postfight conference, but shrugged off concern on whether or not the promotion would find a suitable challenge for Melendez in his next fight.

“There are plenty of fighters out there,” Coker said. “We’re going to keep building our league. Gilbert is one of the cornerstones of Strikeforce, so I’m happy he’s with us and going to stay with us. We’re going to continue getting him great fights.”

An audience of more than 16,000 was on-hand for UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar’s most recent title defense at the Toyota Center in Houston earlier this year.

Although official attendance numbers were not immediately available on Saturday’s event, it was hard not to notice the empty seats that made up the entire upper concourse of the Valley View Casino Center in Melendez's home state.

The question of whether or not Melendez truly is the best lightweight in the world, as he believes he is, can’t be answered while he’s still in Strikeforce. But he has a case for that title -- one that should be helped, not hurt, by this latest performance.

“[The 155-pound weight class] is looking for someone to claim the throne,” Melendez said. “I’m trying to do that.”

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